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Abolition Square, Eman Abdelhadi, 615
Sun Aug 7, 2016 01:39

By Eman Abdelhadi

As part of the latest wave of Black Lives Matter demonstrations arising this summer, approximately 200 activists in New York helped setup an encampment at City Hall on Monday, August 1. Their demands include reparations for victims of police brutality, defunding of the NYPD and reinvestment in black and brown communities.

Threatened with eviction by multiple rows of NYPD officers during the encampment’s first night, demonstrators moved their protest to a nearby park which is open 24-hours a day and designated as privately-owned public space. Activists have recriscended the park, located between Beekman and Spruce streets in lower Manhattan, “Abolition Square.” The police presence around the demonstration remained heavy as The Indypendent went to print, but no further eviction attempts had been made.

Initially protesters, led by organizers with Millions March NYC, were also seeking the resignation of NYPD Commissioner William Bratton but just one day into the encampment the police chief announced he was stepping down at the end of the month to take a lucrative job in the private sector.

Activists at Abolition Square celebrated, however, the NYPD and the broken windows policies the commissioner institutionalized during his career are larger than any one person. Protesters say they will remain until the NYPD ceases to criminalize poor and working-class people in communities of color by enforcing minor offenses like possessing small amounts of marijuana to a far greater degree than in New York’s whiter, more affluent communities.

“They know that the economy is crumbling in our communities,” said Joel Northam, one of the protest organizers. “But rather than do anything about it they’d rather arrest people and put them in cages. It’s a really sick cycle. These arrests are filling the coffers of the city and in return the city is pouring more money into its policing apparatus.”

Instead, the demonstrators want the NYPD’s annual $5.5 billion budget to go toward reparations for those who have been brutalized by police or their survivors, and to be invested in Black and Latino neighborhoods subjected to broken windows.

“Those are our short-term demands,” said Northam. “As far as our long term demands go, we want the abolishment of this police force, this justice system, these political parties, and this entire corrupt-ass system.”

The protest marks a divergence from other Black Lives Matter demonstrations that have shaken the country in recent years, both in form and substance. The organizers’ radical, abolitionist politics set them apart from reformist strains within the movement and the tactic of establishing an encampment differs from other protests as well, since it brings people together over a sustained period.

In Chicago, members of the #LetUsBreathe Collective have set-up an ongoing encampment, too. Located across the infamous Homon Square detention facility which they want shut down, they’re calling their tent city “Freedom Square.”

Many observers see reflections of 2011’s Occupy Wall Street movement in the demonstrations, although Northam prefers not to use the term “occupy” as it is offensive to indigenous peoples.

Since it was established, Abolition Square has been host to dozens of workshops including self- care sessions, street medic trainings, and discussions of police and prison abolition. Groups like Revolutionaries Against Gender-oppression Everywhere (RAGE), Standing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), and Labor for Black Lives, a nascent network of unionists mobilizing to support Black Lives Matter, are among those who have hosted meetings in the park.

A generation politicized and trained through the movement for black lives, as well as the anti-war and Occupy movements, has come together at Abolition Square. By providing a meeting space and a sustained presence for radical politics, participants hope the encampment will become a major organizing hub in New York City.

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